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The Top Ten Books I’ve Read This Year

Recently I told you I read a lot of books. Today I want to tell you which ones I liked the best. Here, in no particular order, are the top ten books I read this year.

Animal Farm

This was my last “five star” read for the year. The whole book is a fairly transparent parable about revolutions and the kind of governments that pop up in their place. I wish that this was required reading for every middle school student in the nation, as it addresses many ideas that are popular right now, both on the right and left. In the end it’s a story with more prophetic significance than when it was first written.

Murder on the Orient Express

So, you’ll have to bear with me on this list; a lot of these books are old. Case in point: Somehow I managed to spend the first forty years of my life avoiding this book. But you guys! This book is so good. Obviously this book has been made into movies and TV shows and plays, but I doubt many of them hold a candle to this book. Obviously there is a murder on the train, but the train happens to have Hercule Poirot on board, along with a train full of distinct international characters. The characterization in this book is incredibly strong and the twist at the end sets this book apart from most of the mystery novels or TV shows you consume. If you’re a fan of mysteries and haven’t heard the plot, you need to check this book out.

George Whitfield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century

If you, like me, have heard a lot about George Whitefield but haven’t read about his life, let me encourage you to start here. This book tells the story of George Whitefield, the 18th Century evangelist that along with John and Charles Wesley helped spark the First Great Awakening. I could tell you a lot of stories that this book told me from George’s life, but the highest compliment I can pay to this book is that while you read it, it feels like you’ve spent time with the great evangelist. I walked away from this book stirred to share the Gospel with my generation like Whitefield did for his. You won’t regret spending time on this one.

The Attributes of God

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” -A. W. Tozer.

This quote has captured my imagination for the last twenty years. Tozer undoubtedly had read Pink’s book and patterned his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy” after Pink’s book. This book methodically works through various attributes of God found in Scripture. If you’ve never read a book like this, you don’t need another reason to read this book. Just do it! If you’ve read others like this, I would tell you Pink is old enough to bring the thoughts of God from another age to bare on our current situation. It’s refreshing to not hear someone building their theology about God in favor of or against the latest ideologies, but based on their understanding of God from the Bible. The last two chapters on “The Wrath of God” and “The Contemplation of God” are worth the price of admission.

Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People

It’s probably not a secret that I try to read a bunch of books about evangelism every year. This book I picked up because it was short and by an author that I respect. This book was super short but packed a big punch. In it you will find five transformative practices that Frost encourages you to perform every week. The result of these practices on a person or a group of people will be a life that surprises the world with the attractive love of Jesus. I would highly recommend this book if you struggle with evangelism.

Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically from the Inside Out

So, I’ve read probably a majority of Neil Cole’s books. I read at least two of them this year alone. His books have always had an impact on me. But this book was different. Even though Neil is the first one to tell you that all of his books can be applied to a traditional church setting, they are mainly picked up by the house church / missional church crowd. This book was specifically written to help legacy churches embrace organic church principles. There are several stories told throughout the book of legacy churches who have embraced organic principles to a greater or lesser extent. What I loved about this book is that seeing Neil and Phil apply these principles in a legacy church helped clarify for me where I’ve embraced less than organic principles in my own house church. I would recommend you pick up a copy whether you find yourself in a legacy church or a house church setting.

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives

I read this book for me, but the further I got into it, the more I realized this book is needed by most people. The author looks at the problem of the West’s need for constant motion and prescribes margin as the cure for peoples’ hectic lives. He then begins to offer practical advice on how to restore emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves and this is where this book shines.

Evangelism As Exiles: Life on Mission As Strangers in Our Own Land

If you’re a long time reader, you know that I try and read a lot about the topic just to keep me constantly thinking about how to share my faith better. This year was no exception. This was the standout book on that topic this year. The author, Elliot Clark, is a former missionary to a country where Christianity is illegal. His book makes the assumption that Christianity is beginning to lose it’s protected status here in the West and aims to instruct its readers in evangelism using examples from his missionary experience, the early church, and even the experience of African Americans during American slavery. This is such a unique and valid approach to evangelism that speaks to our current moment that I believe this is a must read for the entire church. This is my top evangelism book of the year and definitely in the top three books of the year. Get this book!

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World

I loved this book. I’ll probably read it again this next year. It begins with a simple premise: Prayer is easy, we make it hard. He compares prayer to a meal with a close friend, something that should be easy. However, we spend so much time trying to get it right that we never set down and enjoy the meal. He then takes us on a journey of losing more of ourselves and becoming more childlike in order to grow in that relationship. It’s such a simple premise, but it’s a path that very few of us travel, which is what makes it so great. If you want to grow in your prayer life, whether you’ve spent your life in that pursuit or your brand new to prayer, this book will be helpful to you.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself

Last but not least is “When Helping Hurts.” This is now a modern classic about alleviating poverty, written by someone who has worked with the poor around the world. The principles are fairly universal and I’ve was encouraged in how to use them both here locally and in our work in Africa. The authors are not against giving, but lay forth principles for giving that help the needy become more self-sufficient and help you not to be over-burdended in helping. If you find yourself working with the poor in any capacity, I would highly recommend picking up this book.

Please Note: Each of the links listed here is an Amazon Affiliate link.

Solemn Assembly Pre-Meeting

Background: In light of everything going on in the country, I previously made a case that we need to gather people together and pray and fast. Since that post, things have continued along the same course. It’s time to become more intentional about moving forward. Please join us for a three day, virtual solemn assembly next week.

Here are the details:

When: We are holding a solemn assembly, virtually and in small groups, starting on Tuesday, April 7th at 7:00 PM Central Standard Time. The goal will be prayer meetings on Wednesday (4/8) and Thursday (4/9) as well.

How: We will gather virtually to start each meeting with the help of Zoom. People gathering are encouraged to fast for the three days of solemn assembly.

Where: To be determined. We want to gather in various places across our city in groups smaller than ten, government permitting, for those that are able and want to meet together. (More on where below.)

Who: If you are a believer in Jesus, we encourage you to join us.

Leaders: While the names of people who are leading isn’t important, we are looking for people who will join us in opening their homes for small gatherings. If you are interested in opening up your home for a group of ten or less to pray, please join us on a call to talk about the details of the upcoming solemn assembly. This call will be accessible using the following Zoom details:

Time: Mar 31, 2020 07:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 571 011 773

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Responding in Crisis: Solemn Assemblies

We are in a season of crisis and we can’t just go back to business as normal.

So where do we go?

I think this is where many of us our struggling. Our natural inclinations in a normal crisis would push us closer to others in the church or push us to share the Gospel with those who don’t have it. This crisis, though? We’re being told that the most loving, compassionate thing we can do is to hide ourselves from others. While I understand the science behind why, I think many people are having a hard time knowing what to do in this moment.

God’s Answer in the Crisis

God has an answer for crises throughout human history and we find them in the book of Joel. Yesterday, we looked at the crisis that broke out in Joel’s day and what it means for us. Today, I want to take a look at a specific action he called on the nation to take: Sacred Assemblies.

After Joel reminds the nation depth of judgment they’ve been in, Joel tells the people how to respond:

Consecrate a fast,
Proclaim a solemn assembly;
Gather the elders
And all the inhabitants of the land
To the house of the Lord your God,
And cry out to the Lord.

Joel 1:14, New American Standard Bible

What is a solemn assembly? It’s where everyone suspends business as usual and gathers together to return to the Lord.  Joel later says,

‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord,
‘Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.’
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil.
Who knows whether He will not turn and relent
And leave a blessing behind Him…

Joel 2:12-14, New American Standard Bible

God has an answer for the crisis in front of us and it’s not only to sit in front of our TV’s and wait for sickness to past. We are being called to assemble before God, call a fast, and repent. The point is not to perform a religious ritual. The point is to enter in to a process of repentance. God’s answer for the crisis is for us to use it as a time to turn us back to God.  This is really not all that different than what Jesus said about the crises that disciples asked Jesus about. “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” (Luke 13:5). 

Solemn Assemblies in Light of Covid-19

This particular crisis is full things that we haven’t seen before. One of them is the nature of the crisis seemingly demands that we separate rather than gather. How do we gather solemn assemblies in the hour of Covid-19?

As of this writing (7:00 AM on 3/24/2020) the CDC is recommending not meeting in groups larger than 10 people to prevent the spread of this infection. This obviously limits the size of solemn assemblies, something we’ve seen generally in the hundreds, especially in times of crisis. Some states and cities have shelter in place orders that are not allowing for people to leave their homes at all.

The answer is to still call solemn assemblies. We just need to make them smaller.

We need a two pronged approach. There’s still a place for many in our nation to gather together in groups of ten or less and pray in their homes. For those that have this freedom and are not in the category of immuno-compromised individuals, I would suggest gathering together to pray. Gather together with fellow believers. Much of the world has been changed in the past when small groups of believers gather together and pray. Fast and pray together. Seek the Lord for your city’s welfare, for the welfare of your church, and the welfare of this nation.

For those who are in shelter in place states/cities or are in an immuno-compromised state, as much as I hate to admit it, now is the time to take advantage of existing technology to gather in groups and pray together. Zoom, a video conferencing solution used in business is getting a lot of air time lately. They have free and paid options. You can find alternatives for Zoom here. Use these technologies in conjunction with other believers to gather together and pray.

The crisis is too great to sit on the sidelines.

What This Will Require

This will require a new level of leadership from those who have never thought they were leaders. There will be those who have never started something that will be required to stick out their neck and try something they’ve never done. There will be people who have never prayed out loud before that will need to pray out loud. You will find yourself doing things that you only thought pastors needed to do in the past. None of this is bad, it’s just uncomfortable. Remember, we are in an hour like no other. It will require us to do things we’ve never done before.

Who knows whether the Lord will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him?

Consecrate a fast.

Gather the elders.

Cry out to the Lord.

Photo Credit: Red Emergency Pull Lever by Jason Leung on Unsplash